This general election cycle has been, arguably, the most extraordinary in the history of American politics.
And the most divisive.
Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton have been equally revered by their backers and reviled by their detractors, only with more vigor and passion than we have ever seen in a presidential election year.
Voters are unique beasts, casting their ballot on the issues (or, sometimes, just a single issue) that concern them most. Second amendment rights. Border security. Trade policies. Terrorism.
Those are major problems, to be sure, but there are many in the travel world who are also troubled by what the next administration could bring to our not-so-little industry that contributes approximately $1.4 trillion to the American economy.
And so, for maybe the first time in a presidential election, people are asking: Will politics impact tourism to the United States?
It’s a legitimate question, even though it only appears to be being asked in the event that one of the candidates wins the election.
This column is not to take sides; politics has always been, and should be, a personal decision. Rather, it is to point out how this is top of mind and just as big an issue to many in the travel industry as any other issue.
And, to be frank, it is what it is – that one candidate who is drawing scrutiny from the travel world is Mr. Trump, who has talked openly about building a wall on the border with Mexico, vetting incoming tourists for ties to terrorists, even deporting some 11 million illegal immigrants and performing profile and background checks before bringing them back into the U.S. legally.
In March, David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater in Florida, attended a tourism conference in Germany. He told TampaBay.com that he wasn’t asked much about the Zika virus or the value of the dollar or the refugee crisis.
“Most were concerned about the Trump effect on travel," Downing said, noting that some charter tour and travel booking companies say that some tourists from Europe and Latin America will vacation elsewhere if Trump is elected because of his anti-immigrant policies.
Tourism officials are afraid that such initiatives as normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba and opening the island nation to U.S. tourism – and vice versa – and instituting a 10-year visa program between the United States and China will be undermined.
Iris Köpke, a journalist in Germany, told TampaBay.com that
"I vividly remember people saying that they won't travel to the U.S. as long as George W. Bush is president because they didn't like his attitude. That totally disappeared with Obama, who is rather popular in Germany compared to Bush. I think a president called Trump might bring out those old resentments once again."
Earlier this month, a panel of tourism experts also discussed politics and its effect on travel at the Nevada Governor’s Global Tourism Summit in Reno. Tourism dollars are the heart of the economy in Reno/Lake Tahoe and, of course, Las Vegas.
While no one specifically said a Trump presidency would be devastating, panelist Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, said, “There are a few storm clouds out there.”
There are indeed.
Now travel officials are hoping that if it rains, it doesn’t pour.